2 June 2022

By Leilani Darwin, Director, Mind Australia. Leilani is a proud Quandamooka woman, whose ancestral home is Stradbroke Island.

What an absolutely historic time in this country. With the new Labor Prime Minister elected by the people, what changes and outcomes will we see in the mental health sector?

Firstly, as an Aboriginal woman I can’t begin to share with you all the overwhelming joy that I have in knowing that finally, Australia will have an opportunity to recognise the First Nations people of this country. This is very much enshrined in the movement of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the need to have a Voice to Parliament through Constitutional recognition. For far too long our self-determined leadership and voices haven’t always been included in key policy and reform on issues that directly impact our families and communities.

As I said earlier this year at the launch of the Close the Gap Annual Report and campaign, the past is the past, however, until we recognise it and acknowledge the impacts on First Nations people we will continue to be impacted by poor health outcomes, poor mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Now is the time to act, to understand and educate yourself on the impacts of mental ill health on our people.

For many years I have made conscious decisions to step up, to be brave and share my lived and living experience of mental ill health and suicide. For decades my people have been tied up in a system of injustice, racism and services that just don’t focus on or consider our culture, our language, our collective care and connection. Add to this the simple fact that even in today’s world we are dying far earlier and at higher rates then other Australians, through co-morbidity and poor health outcomes, through suicide and through an intergenerational trauma and pain that exists and impacts us. This year, last year and many other times I have been failed – both personally and on behalf of my most precious treasure on this earth, my daughter – when we have tried to access and engage with appropriate mental health support and care.

Over the next three years, our country needs to come together and make collective decisions with the inclusion of people who have lived experience to address these very serious issues. Our Elders and our leaders have fought courageously and without hesitation to bring us to this point in time. A time when we can and will be loud and proud in ensuring a brighter future and focus for our young ones and future generations.

We are still here, we are still standing for the tenacious battles won, yet the systemic failures can and will be addressed by inclusion, governance and leadership of First Nations people.

Together we ask you to be present, to join as we shift the current trajectory of mental illness in our country. I won't be silenced and I will continue to speak my truth, I ask you to open your heart and minds as we walk and work together.

This article was originally published in the Mental Health Australia CEO update on 27 May 2022. Find the Mental Health Australia newsletter here

Leilani is a proud Quandamooka woman and Founder/CEO of First Nations Co. She is also the Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy at the Black Dog Institute, driving their program to be a trusted partner to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to address suicide prevention and mental health.